Reminiscences of the West

From Ireland: Her Wit, Peculiarities and Popular Superstitions

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CHAPTER III...continued

Young Michael was an object of special respect among the people, from the happy circumstance of his descent and birthright. A Welsh by both father and mother was not to be found everywhere, and of this the boy was rather proud; and, when even yet a child, never winced under the operation of having his thumb bound tightly with a woollen thread, and the point pricked with a needle, to extract the blood with which the afflicted person was touched.

What between the produce of the little farm, Peggy's industry, and the matter of eggs and chickens, and Paddy's earnings, which, though very irregular, were often considerable, the family were well enough to live, and might, people said, have made more of themselves if all that was told of Paddy's doings was truth. It was said he had found a crock of gold in one of the towers of the old bawne of Ballintober, which was not more than a mile and a half distant from his cabin, and where Paddy and his son were often seen in the twilight, looking, they said, for moths and wall-flies among the old ivy, or bats and starlings to manufacture fishing materials; at least, so they said, but the people thought otherwise. We often endeavoured to worm the story out of the cunning angler; but, drunk or sober, he was always on his guard, and generally passed it off with a joke, or—

"Sure, Master Willie, you don't give into the likes—'tis only ould women's talk. It's myself that would be glad to own to it if I got the goold, and not be slaving myself, summer and winter, by the river's brink, as I am."

"Yes; but, Paddy, they say you made the attempt, at all events. Cannot you tell us what happened to you?"

"Oh, then, it's only all gollymoschought. But that's mighty fine parlimint [23] your honour has in the little flask; 'tis a pity it doesn't hould more, and the devil a tail we are rising to keep up our spirits."

"Come now, Paddy, since you know very well it will be quite too bright and dull these two hours to stir even a roach, let alone a trout—don't you perceive there isn't a cloud in the sky, and I can see the bottom as plain as my hand: look, even the cows have left off feeding, and are standing in the ford switching their tails to keep off the clags?—just stick the rods, and lie on your face in the grass there, and tell me all about the night you went to look after the money in the old bawne. Do, and you'll see I'll squeeze another mouthful out of the cruiskeen."

"Well, but you're mighty 'cute and disquisitive after ould stories and pishogues. I suppose I may as well be after telling it to you while the breeze is getting up; but keep an eye to the river, awourneen, and try could you see e'er a rise; and be sure you don't miss a gray coughlin or a merrow, if e'er a one flies past you; we'll want them coming on evening. But don't be tellin' on me, nor let on at the big house [24] that I told you the likes at all. Sure the mistress 'ud never forgive me for putting such things in your head; and maybe it's Father Crump she'd be after repatein' it to the next Sunday he dines in Dundearmot; and if she did, troth I wouldn't face him for a month of Sundays. Maybe it's to St. Ball or to St. John's Well he'd send me for my night walkin'."

"Oh, never fear, I'll keep your secret."

"Well, then, awourneen, to make a long story short, I dhramed one night that I was walking about in the bawne, when I looked into the old tower that's in the left hand corner, after you pass the gate, and there I saw, sure enough, a little crock, about the bigness of the bottom of a pitcher, and it full up of all kinds of money, goold, silver, and brass. When I woke next morning, I said nothin' about it, but in a few nights after I had the same dhrame over agin, ony I thought I was lookin' down from the top of the tower, and that all the flures were taken away. Peggy knew be me that I had a dhrame, for I wasn't quite asey in myself; so I ups and tells her the whole of it, when the childer had gone out. 'Well, Paddy,' says she, 'who knows but it would come thrue, and be the making of us yet; but you must wait till the dhrame comes afore you the third time, and then, sure, it can do no harm to try, anyways.' It wasn't long till I had the third dhrame, and as the moon was in the last quarter, and the nights mighty dark, Peggy put down the grisset,[25] and made a lock of candles; and so, throwin' the loy [26] over my showlder, and giving Michauleen the shovel, we set out about twelve o'clock, and when we got to the castle, it was as dark that you wouldn't see your hand before you; and there wasn't a stir in the ould place, barrin' the owls that wor snorin' in the chimley. To work we went just in the middle of the flure, and cleared away the stones and the rubbish, for nearly the course of an hour, with the candles stuck in pataties, resting on some of the big stones a wan side of us. Of coorse, sorra word we said all the while, but dug and shovelled away as hard as hatters, and a mighty tough job it was to lift the flure of the same buildin'. Well, at last the loy struck on a big flag, and my heart riz within me, for I often heard tell that the crock was always covered with a flag, and so I pulled away for the bare life, and at last I got it cleared, and was just lifting the edge of it, when——was that a trout I heard lep there abroad?"

"No, Paddy, you know very well it wasn't. Go on with your story. Didn't you see a big goat with four horns and terrible red eyes, sitting on the flag, and guarding the gold. Now tell the truth."

"Oh, what's the use in tellin' you anything about it; sure, I know by your eye you don't believe a word I am sayin'. The dickens a goat was sitting on the flag; but when both of us were trying to lift the stone, my foot slipped, and the clay and rubbish began to give way under us. 'Lord betune us and harm,' says the gossoon; and then, in the clapping of your hand, there wuz a wonderful wind rushed in through the dureway, and quinched the lights, and pitched us both down into the hole; and of all the noises you ever heard, it was about us in a minute. M'anum san Deowl! but I thought it was all over with us, and sorra wan of me ever thought of as much as crossin' myself; but I made out as fast as I could, and the gossoon after me, and we never stopped running 'till we stumbled over the wall of the big intrance, and it was well we didn't go clane into the moat. Troth, you wouldn't give three haypence for me when I was standin' in the road—the bouchal itself was stouter—with the wakeness that came over me. Och, millia murdher! I wasn't the same man for many a long day; but that was nawthin' to the turmintin' I got from every body about findin' the goold, for the shovel that we left after us was dishcovered, and there used to be daelers and gintlemin from Dublin,—antitrarians, I think they call them,—comin' to the house continually, and axin' Peggy for some of the coins we found in the ould castle.

"There now, you have the whole of it—wet the landin'-net agra, and run after that beautiful green-drake that's just gone over us, while I see whether there is anything left in the bottle."

The popular opinions with respect to hidden treasure are, that they are generally under the guardianship of spirits, who assume various hideous shapes to affright mortals who seek to discover them. Sometimes the good people interfere, and some of their special favourites are, under their guidance and permission, enabled to obtain possession of the hidden gold; but it is strictly imposed upon those to whom the secret is revealed, either in the form of a dream or as a direct revelation, that they must seek the treasure at a particular time, not utter a word during the search, and keep the secret of its discovery for seven years after. Several of the great lake serpents and water-cows of our Irish Fairy Mythology are supposed to guard treasures; in some instances black cats are similarly employed.

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[23] Parlimint, used in contradistinction to potteen, or illicit whiskey.

[24] The big house, or Teach more, is the term applied by the people to the residences of the gentry, except when they are of great extent or beauty, and then "the coort" is the word made use of. Old castles or ancient inclosures are styled bawnes.

[25] Grisset, a small narrow metal pan on three legs, used for melting grease, and dipping rushes in. Sometimes a fragment of an old pot is employed for the same purpose. The tongs are made red hot, and if there is no kitchen stuff at hand, a bit of fat of any kind is squeezed between the hot blades of the tongs into the grisset or its substitute, and the rushes, peeled of their outer green bark, all except one narrow stripe, are drawn through the melted grease, and laid across the stool to set. In order to permit the grease to exude with greater freedom, all the old-fashioned country pairs of tongs were made with holes in the flat of the blades. The dipt rushes were generally kept in a piece of badger's skin, hung to the roof. Rushlights are now scarcely known, nor the sconces in which they were fixed. Pieces of tow dipped in resin are used instead.

[26] The loy was the long, narrow, one-sided spade, with an unwieldy ash handle or feck, the only agricultural instrument known to the bulk of the western peasants twenty years ago.